Friday 13th April – Stage 5, “Marathon Day”, 42.4km or 26.2 miles

Again, same ritual as previously, but the atmosphere was slightly different today.  This was the last long one, after this it would be a short hobble to the finish.  I’m still not sure why they choose to term this one ‘marathon day’, after we’d been through so much already, but i guess it’s the only one that’s true marathon distance.

Nervous on the start line, and my guts started churning a bit, which i thought may have been the Coke from the night before.  Mark and Rich were walking together and I asked if i could tag along, they looked surprised i’d asked and said of course.  We got away from the start and into some dunes and my guts were churning even more.  I needed to answer a call of nature so i told Mark and Rich I’d see them later and dashed around a dune where i had a bad attack of the squits.  This came as a bit of a surprise, as i suffer from a bad stomach at the best of times so had been taken immodium regularly since arriving in Morocco, just so i could control my ‘movements’ (nice i know!).  I got up and moved back into the stream of people making their way through the dunes.  I was ambling along when i thought to myself i didn’t want to just amble today, i wanted to finish in a decent time, and thought i’d quite like to spend the day with Mark and Rich.  I trotted along to catch them up and we exchanged a bit of banter for a short while. It was only later that day that we realised that the going through the sand dunes was pretty easy, and this was probably as a result of the previous days rainfall, which meant that the sand had all packed down.  If we hadn’t had the rain, this stage would likely have been much tougher than we experienced.

We passed a French guy sat by the side of the track and never gave him much thought.  Shortly after, he passed us again, before sitting down again.  ‘ca va’ i said to him, as he looked a bit rough, but he just nodded and waved me on.  We emerged from the sand dunes to see a medic team running to a helicopter far to our right.  They both had massive packs on their back and were in a rush to get somewhere.  It was a week after the MdS that i read about Albert on facebook.  He’d been having chest pains all week during the event, and it turns out that he’d had a heart attack just after we passed him that day.  Thankfully the last i heard he was recovering well.

We plodded on through the day passing the time with banter, and struggling through the terrain, again made easier due to the previous nights rain.  I think it was Mark that at this point said i didn’t eat enough, which made me realise that i didn’t, and that was probably why i kept running out of energy.  A few times i had felt like a car running out of fuel, particularly towards the end of stages.  It was only now that i started to regret binning so much food after day 1.  I think it would have been a far more comfortable experience in the long run if i’d carried the food and eaten more as i went.  This was a problem that i always had, and continue to have, in training.

At some point during the day, Rich took my “Lawrence of Arabia” picture, where i’m striding along the ridge of a sand dune.  One of my favourite momentos from the week, alongside “argument with rucksack”

I quite enjoyed the day as a whole, but not much of it is that memorable. We probably talked crap for much of the day to be honest, although there may just as well have been deep, insightful realisations.  It was good to spend time with Mark and Rich though, and they introduced me to some of the people that they’d met during the event so far.

One conversation that stuck in my mind was Rich kicking off a discussion about how tough our Armed Forces work in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Here we were plodding along, chatting away, with what we thought were pretty big weights on our bag.  Not only that, but there was the terrain, and the heat to cope with.  We couldn’t comprehend that soldiers etc had the additional pressure of being shot at or encountering IED’s during their day, all while they were in this alien environment.  We all agreed that they do an unbelievable job in such conditions day after day.

I think it was at CP3 that the terrain changed.  It went from yellow/orange/red sand to black rock which looked volcanic and in some places was really smooth.  This was quite weird and the trails became a bit more challenging underfoot as we moved along.  Then we went through some mines and an old village, with quite a few people around cheering us on.  Rich dished out some jelly babies around this point and my energy boosted a bit as i’d started to flag.  I spotted a photographer and trotted down a slope to the sounds of Rich shouting ‘dont waste your energy’.  Wise words, as shortly after, my energy went, and i started struggling to keep up with Rich and Mark as they pulled away.  I started to trot four paces, and walk four paces in an effort to catch up, but i couldn’t, and they carried off into the distance at a steady pace.  It was at this point that i spotted the finish for the day which was about 5k away.  Again, the end took a long time to arrive, and i was stuffed by the time i got in.  Same ritual though, tea, water, tent, unpack.  Only this time there was a really positive atmosphere to the camp.  We’d almost finished now as we only had short of ten miles to go until the finish. By this stage, nothing short of broken limbs and serious incident would prevent any of us finishing.  The comissaires that came round mentioned that everyone was really upbeat and that we’d all done well to make it so far.

I was also really excited as Liz and my mum would be arriving in camp some time tonight, and it would be great to see them.  I was worried that i’d somehow miss them, or that they wouldn’t be allowed to venture into the camp to meet us.  I decided that i would go to see Doc Trotter to get some medication for the next day (painkillers, just in case), and hope to catch them on the way.

I hobbled from our tent across the uneven desert floor.  Which was made worse by my blisters, that had been taped up, then sand had got in, and made them worse.  I arrived at the Doc Trotter tent, to be greeted by a smile from Anais, who gave me some drugs and asked for my water/medic card. Crap, it was in the tent attached to my pack.  Ok, she said, bring it straight back then.  So off i hobbled back to the tent.  On my way, i noticed gangs of fresh-looking people standing around, so i hobbled slower in the hope that it might be Liz and mum, but to no avail.  I made it back to the tent, explained the medic card story to everyone. After waiting long enough for them to rib me, I turned and went back.

Hobbling back, i put my head up briefly to see another group of unfamiliar people stood in the distance. One of them put a hand up and shouted ‘wayne’, and i realised it was Liz.  I’m not sure whether this happened, but there was then one of those romantic moments when a stinking, decrepit and almost crippled runner hobbles his way to his love who is running towards him with her arms out.  I think i might have blubbed with relief at seeing Liz, and i’m not sure i summoned up enough energy to tell her how pleased i was to see her.  I think the conversation was probably a moan at having forgotten my medic card.  I continued the hobble to my mum and said hi, then we went to Doc Trotter where i produced my card for Anais.

We all then made our way round to the tent and i introduced everyone to everyone, and i agreed to meet Liz and mum in a short while for the opera that would be happening.  I made a special effort and used an extra one of my wemmi wipes to clean up a bit – not that i’m sure Liz noticed any difference in smell at all.  I also brushed my teeth.  I’m sure this was all wasted effort as i’m pretty sure we stank at this stage, and the only thing that made it any sweeter was the smell of antiseptic that had been used to clean blisters out.

I decided not to cook my food before the concert, as it was only due to be on for a short while, and i would probably be late if i did (bad move).  I put my fleece on as it was starting to get cold (cheers again Montane!) and off i hobbled in my special MdS slippers, over to the concert area.  It was all a bit surreal, as we were right on the outskirts of a massive national park, where there are sand dunes the size of the mountains in the Lake District.  As the sun went down, the dunes changed colour and they were truly stunning.  In front of this, was a French opera singer with full orchestra, and behind the audience was the army truck, firing the laser off into the sky as the sun went down.  It was an amazing experience though, but in true French style, it started late, and i was starting to get really hungry.  I laughed with Liz that she could never say we never did anything together after this experience, she reminded me that she’d had to pay for it herself, so i couldn’t claim it as a romantic night out.  Eventually my stomach got the better of me and i said to Liz i needed to go and get some tea as i was starving.  I hobbled back to the tent and sorted my food out before the night-time ritual of bed preparation and banter.

During the night i awoke with my stomach doing a massive gurgle.  Crap! Literally! I desperately fumbled around in the darkness for my headtorch before realising that i’d put it at the foot of my sleeping bag, with my slippers.  I put it on, hopped out of bed and dashed out into the darkness.  Trying desperately to see a bush in the darkness, while i tried to put my headtorch on, not stub my toe on a rock, and tried not to release my guts was a challenge.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a pleasant experience and i didn’t make it to the bush….

Hobbling back to the tent, i fretted briefly about stinking as my legs dried off in the cold desert night.  Then the reality sank in.  Most of the people in camp over the course of the week had had the squits at one point or another, and the reality was that we ALL stank after moving through the desert for a week without washing properly.